Shishito Pepper - Lion of the Pepper Kingdom
Blistered Shishitos are the pinnacle of appetizers. Flash-fried in a pan and served with dipping sauce, they are now a popular starter on tables across America. But their roots are in Japan, where they were popular long before reaching Western plates and palates. When we talked to Kenny, our farmer-in-residence at the seed farm, to learn more about the variety last year, we discovered that the name "Shishito" means "Lion Pepper."
Enter Lori Larusso, an artist whose work explores themes of food imagery and animals, which are beautifully brought together in her series Eating Animals. Look through the series and you’ll see that almost all of her work includes utensils. Utensils are very cultural objects and we love the playful way in which her Shishito Pepper artwork features both forks and chopsticks. We felt it was important to honor the culture that developed this variety but also to recognize the variety’s evolving cross-cultural story as shishito appreciation continues to spread through the US.
Lori, tell us, why are you drawn to food art?
I’m obsessed with food. Eating it, looking at it, representations of food; advertising, preparation, production, packaging, the politics and psychosis connected to eating food. This particular work, titled Shishito Lion, came out of a body of works that are, in part, a visual exploration of bourgeois domestic activity as fantasy. The images are squarely in the lineage of mid-century ‘ladies magazines’ and contemporary mommy blogs as well as curated Instagram posts celebrating perfection. They are from a narrative that presents the (western) early middle-aged female life as flawless, staged and filtered. This work is both a critique and celebration of stereotypical aspects of bourgeois domesticity.
Your acrylic painting on shaped aluminium roused a gasp of delight from our team the first time we saw it! Tell us a bit more about your artistic process.
I am interested in exploring the abstraction of narrative through combining contemporary digital technology with the centuries-old medium (painting).
My process involves researching and observing an image and further altering the image digitally to adjust contrast and proportions. I then build and prepare surface to paint on; draw from the image; apply tape to the surface; carefully cut away the positive space with an exacto knife; mix paint for color and consistency and then apply multiple layers of paint to the exposed area. After the paint dries, the tape is removed to reveal sharp, definite edges. Another layer of tape is applied over the entire surface to repeat the process. This is done for every single shape, color, value - transparent or opaque. Each image is unique, as the cutting is an extension of drawing and once the tape is removed, it cannot be reused, as it does not hold its intended shape.
We love the playfulness of the piece - in fact, if you look closely at the artwork you can see the subtle amiable face of a lion within a platter of fried shishitos. What are your favorite elements of this artwork?
I especially enjoy the shadows. In making Shishito Lion, I have to consider how the shadows affect the local color. For example, on the right side of the orange placemat, you can see how the pattern is rendered in a darker and less saturated version of the pattern than elsewhere in the painting, places where it is suggested that the light is evenly projected onto the placemat. Of course it’s all an illusion, but I enjoy noticing these things in real life. They’re like little nuggets of beauty that I only notice when I slow down enough to observe and enjoy the physical world around me.
We also enjoy the perspective of Shishito Lion. It feels inviting and welcoming, like there’s a place waiting for you! What do you hope that this artwork says about you as an artist.
I think this piece shows the Shishito pepper as tasty, beautiful, and fun!
This work is reflective of my larger interests as an artist, both stylistically and conceptually. My series Eating Animals speaks to how our cultures’ unhealthy obsession with healthy food often masks the origins of its production. It also fails to consider who has the financial means and access to consume foods defined as healthy.
This work also engages the spaces between personal and commercial exploits by borrowing imagery from advertising (print and digital), google images, and other people's photographs and social media accounts, referencing and complicating notions of ‘ownership’ as well as authorship.
This Shishito Lion piece is another example of how our artists show us the many ways we're all connected through food and seed. Beauty, food justice, cultural traditions, farming, politics, and culinary delight all mix together on our plates. Sitting down to your own home-grown meal is one way to engage with the world, and enjoy a great meal.
See more of Lori's work at lorilarusso.com